The intrinsic evil of slavery and the death penalty?

The intrinsic evil of slavery and the death penalty? December 30, 2010

I have been planning this post since Christmas, but was taking some time to get my thoughts in order.  Given the recent discussion here about the death penalty, I decided to shift the focus of my question to a pair of closely related questions:

1)  Does the Church now teach that slavery is an intrinsic evil?

2) Should the Church teach that the death penalty is an intrinsic evil?

Let me be clear that I understand that the Church does not, currently, teach that the death penalty is an intrinsic evil.  However, given the substantial evolution in the past two decades in Church teaching (one need only read the article on capital punishment in the old Catholic Encyclopedia to see the depth of this change), and given the arguments advanced by some theologians such as Cristian Brugger, I believe that this is a question worth discussing.  This possibility is strongly opposed by some theologians, most notably by the late Cardinal Avery Dulles.  (Hat tip to Zach for this link!)

The question of slavery is equally complicated.  The following passage from Veritatis Splendor seems to imply strongly that slavery is an intrinsic evil:

Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature “incapable of being ordered” to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church’s moral tradition, have been termed “intrinsically evil” (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that “there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object”.131    The Second Vatican Council itself, in discussing the respect due to the human person, gives a number of examples of such acts: “Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman    living    conditions,    arbitrary    imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator”. (Veritatis Splendor 80, boldface added)

Again, this interpretation has been strongly opposed by Avery Dulles. (Subscription required.)  In particular, he contests this reading of Veritatis Splendor.

In my own reading about these issues, the arguments against such  teaching seem to fall into two categories:

1) Substantive:  arguments based on scripture, tradition and natural law which argue that the death penalty and/or slavery are not intrinsically evil (but which does not discount the fact that they are in practice gravely evil and should be eliminated).

2) Procedural:  by this I mean an argument that the Church cannot teach this because it never taught this and so would contradict itself, causing great scandal and confusion.  (Again, hat tip to Zach for making this argument explicitly about the death penalty.)  Avery Dulles makes this sort of argument about slavery.

With regards to the substantive arguments:  I find the argument about the death penalty narrowly applied as self-defense to be the most cogent.  However, I would set against this a very powerful passage from Evangelium Vitae:

And yet God, who is always merciful even when he punishes, “put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him” (Gen 4:15). He thus gave him a distinctive sign, not to condemn him to the hatred of others, but to protect and defend him from those wishing to kill him, even out of a desire to avenge Abel’s death. Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this. (EV 9, boldface added)

This passage (and the accompanying story about Cain and Abel) suggests that human dignity is never trumped, even by self-defense.  I would note that this story is set among a nomadic people who do not have a modern prison system, so the very issues of self-defense and the death penalty are in play.  But God himself rejects this option.

The substantive arguments about slavery point to scripture passages that seem to support slavery (particularly turns of phrase in St. Paul’s letters) and a quasi-argument from silence:  Jesus never condemns slavery, and the Old Testament strongly supports it.   Avery Dulles gives a half-hearted defense by trying to draw distinctions between black slavery in the Americas and Roman slavery, but I found his description of Roman slavery to be too rose-colored to be credible.  Again, in response I would appeal to the inalienable dignity of the human person:  that the person is always a subject and never an object, and that slavery, by its very nature, reduces the person to an object, irrespective of the ephemeral differences in treatment and status between times and places.

I am unimpressed by the “procedural” arguments:  reading Cardinal Dulles I really felt that these were a form of special pleading, one which does not give due credence to the continual unfolding of our understanding of God’s revelation.  As Archbishop Chaput put it, “humans learn the hard way, but eventually we do learn”. (Hat tip to Morning’s Minon at dotcommonweal for the quote.  Can you source this for me?)

With regards to both the substantive and procedural arguments, I would be interested in hearing more.

"I keep returning to this post, David. It reminds me of the way Dr King's ..."

Thomas Merton on Peace-Making
"You are very ill informed. The description the child gave in 1993 was NOT a ..."

Michael Jackson: The Man In The ..."
"Wholly inadmissible? Really? You haven’t master first order logic."

Benedict XVI on Homosexuality: A Creative ..."
"Athens problem with Natural Law Philosophy is that it is a logically unsound system. It ..."

Benedict XVI on Homosexuality: A Creative ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Catholic
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Charles Robertson
  • I think that many people give a lot of weight to the procedural argument in that to discard it attacks their understanding of what purpose the Church serves in their relationship with God and with truth. To the extent that people see the Church as being the source of true teaching about the world and about God (a view I personally would consider to be correct) people have an expectation that what the Church teaches at a given time is, while perhaps not the complete fullness of truth, at least true in so far as it goes.

    In this sense, the idea that the Church could have taught fairly consistently for 2000 years that the death penalty is justly used in some circumstances, and then turn around and teach that “no, actually, the use of the death penalty is intrinsically evil and thus never just”, seems to open up the rather horrifying question: What if lots of other things we currently think are just or good are actually intrinsically evil?

    It also opens the rather basic teaching question: If we were wrong all this time, why are we to have any particular confidence that we are right now? If the Church was in fact wrong to teach that the death penalty was just in some circumstances, and people were wrong to believe the Church’s teaching on this, then why should someone, after a reversal on the question, feel that they are wrong to disagree with the Church’s new teaching. After all, the Church itself is saying that in the past people were wrong to believe what the Church taught, why should we now be certain that people would not be wrong to believe the new teaching?

    Now, I think this line of thinking becomes much less compelling for those who feel that they have arrived at most truths on their own and that the Church just happens to be a pretty good repository of what they already believe. But it is certainly the sort of thing that distresses people who have taken the approach of coming to the conclusion that the Catholic Church is Christ’s true Church on earth and that it is guided by the Holy Spirit, and who then submit themselves in obedience to even those teachings of the Church which they would not themselves otherwise arrive at.

    Moving backwards to the substantive — It seems to me that what Paul does in his discussions of slavery in the Epistles is tell Christians how to live as Christians within an institution that existed at the time (slavery) without necessarily ruling on the question of whether slavery should or should not exist in society. I think this is very much compatible with the later development of Christian understanding which teaches that the idea of one human person wholly owning another is not compatible with our Christian understanding of what the dignity of the human person is. And indeed, there is support for this in Paul as well. He urges that Onesimus be accepted back “as a brother” in Christ, and he says that in Christ there is neither slave nor free. This would certainly seem to suggest that one could argue that slavery as an institution is something which most of the time (indeed, virtually all the time) sends a message which is contrary to the Christian understanding of human dignity, and thus that it is far better for society that we not have it than that we have it.

    However, I’m not sure that, given that Paul gives direction for how masters and slaves should live virtuously within the institution of slavery, one can claim that slavery is an intrinsic evil in that it is impossible for one person to economically “own” another without that action being corrupt and sinful. Paul’s instructions seem to suggest that it is possible to be a “good master”.

    I think one can certainly argue that having slaves and being a slave owning society is such a huge occasion of sin (that it is so nearly impossible to treat another person fully as a person while “owning” them) that slavery should never be tolerated in society. And that the incredible evils perpetrated by bad masters far outweigh whatever minor good might come from the tiny number of “good masters”. But given the way that Paul addresses the topic it seems hard for me to see how one could make the case that slavery is intrinsically evil in the absolute sense that suicide or prostitution is.

    In like sense, I think one could certainly argue (though I do not agree with this) that having the death penalty, while it might be used justly in some circumstances, is so monumentally corrupting for society that its ill effects always far outweigh the good it achieves. But I find it hard to see how one could, given Church history on the question, argue that it is intrinsically evil.

  • Sorry my initial reply was looking to the wrong quote from MM’s comment.

  • Ronald King

    David, relating to the procedural aspect, how would the church create scandal by identifying slavery and the death penalty as intrinsically evil? Isn’t the church always evolving in its understanding of revelation and God’s love and as a result the natural consequence of this evolution would be a clarification of teaching based on better understanding?

  • Kurt

    “humans learn the hard way, but eventually we do learn”.

    Is it possible that it is not a matter of better learning by humans but of changed social conditions which change the moral nature of the act?

    Is it possible that the label “intrinsic evil” really has very little value?

    Particularly since the term “intrinsic” gets too often misused to mean “grave” or to mean “requiring social/civil punishment” maybe it is best to simply take a break from useless pondering of what is intrinsicly evil.

    • Jimmy Mac

      Homo-sex-you-ALL-ity is the only intrinsic evil, dontcha know?

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Kurt, I am beginning to see your point. However, the Christian Platonist in me still leans to the idea that there are some things that are just wrong, no matter how you slice or dice them. We may have a hard time understanding them, or even realizing their essential wrongness, but that doesn’t change their ontological status as evil.

  • bill bannon

    David
        John Paul II’s inference from Cain’s Divine immunity…. that the death penalty in general is negative begs the question as to why the very same God shortly after Cain issues a death penalty for murderers to all mankind (not just the Jews) in Genesis 9:6 and God bases that death penalty on man being made in God’s image: the very explanation that John Paul’s followers proclaim is the reason for being against the death penalty.  Follow God’s word in Genesis 9:6 or follow John Paul II in the ordinary papal magisterium level.  I choose the former because Popes are not pan-infallible but restrictively infallible.  And I choose it because John Paul II did not believe the many death penalties of the Bible were from God (as it says they were) but rather from men ( section 40 of Evangelium Vitae).  That is a bizarre statement of his since Scripture repeatedly puts the death penalties in the first person…imperative.  If we can dismiss Genesis 9:6 as not from God but as an human interpolation then we can also dismiss God’s protection of Cain as a human interpolation…modern hermeneutical scepticism can work just as much against the liberal position as it can for it.
        But here is the danger.  If God actually gave both Genesis 9:6 and Romans 13:4 as its NT echo…then God had a reason which involves the salvation of the murderer ie that he stands a better chance of repenting under the death penalty than he does growing old….much like the good thief on the cross.  If that is the case, then anyone who opposes the death penalty in se….in itself….is actually making the repentance of the murderer less likely.  Dei Verbum in Vatican II mandated that the Magisterium must hand on what is handed to them…not change it because it is now politically incorrect in largely non biblical Europe….and non biblical circles in general…like the NY Times which I love for many things but not for their thoughts on the dp.
    Slavery is awful and not intrinsically evil because God gives chattel slavery to the Jews in Leviticus 25:44…which see. God does not give intrinsic evils. Capitalism required the death of slavery because it needs paid workers to buy its mass production goods. And I’m glad it ended…but my glee does not make slavery evil in se.

    • Dan

      If that is the case, then anyone who opposes the death penalty in se….in itself….is actually making the repentance of the murderer less likely

      There’s an awful lot of presumption in that statement. Isn’t that essentially the same argument as “since we all sin, anyone who opposes abortion is increasing the likelihood of that individual going to hell?”

      • bill bannon

        Dan
        I don’t see the two as being parallel. Mine is: if God orders something and you manage to circumvent it, you may be doing damage while intending compassion. How is that parallel to your above enquotes?

  • Here’s the problem I have with this.

    The Church claims to teach Divine Truth about faith and morals. Divine truth is by definition immutable. If Divine Truth is mutable, it’s not really divine. If it’s not really divine, the Church is not really teaching what she says she is teaching. If she is not really teaching what she says she is teaching, she is not who she says she is (in her teaching capacity), that is, the voice of the Holy Spirit.

    In my estimation the entire Catholic faith hinges on the stability, that is, the truth, of her teachings on faith and morals.

    When we start talking about a Church whose moral principles can change, we are talking about something human, not divine.

    • Ronald King

      Zach, I believe it is moral principles that evolve as human beings evolve in our understanding of the Truth based on the first truth that God is Love. However, human beings have a tendency to be afraid to leave the known and prefer to keep things the same due to this basic fear.
      From 1Cor 13:9-10 “For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect one comes the partial will pass away.”

      • Ronald,

        Moral principles do not evolve. Our understanding of moral principles might evolve, but Catholics are not moral relativists. Morality is absolute.

        • Jimmy Mac

          “Morality is absolute.”

          Read your church history and discover how naive that statemet is.

      • Cindy

        Yes Ron,
        The veil must be shed one day so that we will know more. The “righteous for the unrighteous” suffered and died “that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). We are always a work in progess.

  • bill bannon

    Zach,
    Dogmatically speaking, the Holy Spirit is not guaranteed exactly that way in morals.
    I’d rather give you two cites on this than give you my formulation. The first is from the Introduction to “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma” by Ludwig Ott/ section 8 of the intro/ last paragraph:
    ”        With regard to the doctrinal teaching of the Church it must be well noted that not all the assertions of the Teaching Authority of the Church on questions of Faith and morals are infallible and consequently irrevocable. Only those are infallible which emanate from General Councils representing the whole episcopate, and the Papal Decisions Ex Cathedra (cf. D 1839). The ordinary and usual form of the Papal teaching activity is not infallible. Further, the decisions of the Roman Congregations (Holy Office, Bible Commission) are not infallible. Nevertheless normally they are to be accepted with an inner assent which is based on the high supernatural authority of the Holy See (assensus internus supernaturalis, assensus religiosus). The so-called “silentium obsequiosum.” that is “reverent silence,” does not generally suffice. By way of exception, the obligation of inner agreement may cease if a competent expert, after a renewed scientific investigation of all grounds, arrives at the positive conviction that the decision rests on an error.”

    Second I give you Fr. Brian Harrison from his second essay on torture as to whether noxious legislation can result within the Church from a moral position..section c2:

    ” For approved theologians ever since Bellarmine, Melchior Cano, and Suarez in the 17th century have argued that Christ’s promise of the Holy Spirit’s unfailing assistance to his Church will guarantee that at least some categories of ecclesiastical legislation can never be contrary to faith or morals, or otherwise inflict serious harm on the Church and souls. This was confirmed by the Council of Trent when it anathematized the contention of Calvinists and other Puritans that “the ceremonies, vestments and outward signs” prescribed by liturgical law for the celebration of Mass are “incitements to impiety”.45 Likewise, Pius VI in 1794 condemned the Jansenist teaching that the Church had in fact passed, or ever could pass, legislation “which is not only useless and burdensome for Christian liberty to endure, but which is dangerous and harmful and leading to superstition and materialism”46. However, the consensus of approved theologians interpreting such magisterial interventions seems to be that by no means all ecclesiastical legislation enjoys such a guarantee, but only that which is “universal”, not just in the geographical sense of applying throughout the Catholic world, but in the anthropological sense of applying to the faithful as a whole. In other words, we can be sure the Holy Spirit is never going to allow Peter’s Successor to command, or even authorize, the Church as a whole – the great bulk of the faithful round the world – to commit sin, or to do something that will cause grave harm. For that would be contrary to the ’note’ of sanctity (“One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic”) which is a revealed attribute of the Church.”

    Copy the above two to Word and think on them now and then because even priests often argue a far more simplistic view both on and off the net. But history requires a better explanation than the simplistic. Burning heretics was in the old canon law from 1253 til 1917 though thankfully used largely only in the first half of that time period….the slave status of a child born to a slave mother is mentioned by Aquinas who gives the decretal citations which means that idea sat just as long in the decretals or old canon law.
    Hence Ott is right that the ordinary papal magisterium can be wrong on morals.

    • Bill,

      What/who are Dr. Ott’s sources for these conclusions?

      • bill bannon

        Zach,
        Go here for a great compliment to his book in “Theological Studies” periodical relatively recently:

        http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb6404/is_n4_v57/ai_n28677694/

        Here’s snipet:

        An even better analogue is Ludwig Ott’s preconciliar Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, the vademecum on both sides of the Atlantic not only of professors but of seminarians and graduate students.
        Perhaps a tour de force like Ott’s is no longer possible for one theologian. Beinert, a professor at the University of Regensburg, enlisted ten other German theologians to join him in subdividing and contributing essays in their areas of specialization. Most of the contributors are not well known in the U.S.”
        …………………………………….
        The above is his pedigree. I think what you want more is the what of his sources. I would put history of dogma/ teaching first. In 1520 for example, Pope Leo X defended burning heretics at the stake ( a torturous punishment) in Exsurge Domini against Luther (proposition 33) and said that Luther’s rejection of it was ” against the Catholic Faith”. In our time in ” Splendor of the Truth”, John Paul II stated that torture is an intrinsic evil. Both Popes cannot be correct. And neither Pope was speaking infallibly. So one of them is incorrect in the ordinary papal magisterium.

  • Paul

    David Cruz-Uribe: “Let me be clear that I understand that the Church does not, currently, teach that the death penalty is an intrinsic evil.”

    I think it’s impossible to see how a teaching that JPII allowed an exception for could somehow change into an exceptionless teaching. That would be a logical inconsistency.

    David Cruz-Uribe: “Does the Church now teach that slavery is an intrinsic evil?”

    I think you’ve got to be way clearer about what exactly you’re referring to by the word “slavery”. The Church has always allowed the possibility of just servitude (even for life), while condemning the same situation imposed unjustly. (There’s a book by Fr. Panzer which deals carefully with the subject: “The Popes and Slavery”. Worth reading.)

    David Cruz-Uribe: “…given the substantial evolution in the past two decades in Church teaching (one need only read the article on capital punishment in the old Catholic Encyclopedia to see the depth of this change)…”

    I read that (again) and I’m not at all sure what you’re referring to.

    Zach: “In my estimation the entire Catholic faith hinges on the stability, that is, the truth, of her teachings on faith and morals.”

    I completely agree. Catholic doctrine can develop as much as it likes over the centuries without trouble. But a single genuine change (if found! it will not be!) brings it down.

  • No, the Church does not teach that slavery is “intrinsically” (as opposed to usually in practice) evil, though much hinges on the definition of “slavery.”

    The Church also does not and will not teach the same thing about the death penalty. Applied narrowly as the State (as a juridical person) taking self-defense (including, possibly, through deterrence) it is theoretically tolerable. Though with good maximum security prisons…one wonders how necessary it is (in self-defense, one is supposed to use the minimum necessary force). I also have always pointed out that the death penalty punishes the innocent family of the offender, and that their grief cannot simply be ignored or dismissed as “collateral damage” in the calculations of justice.

  • I will say that on the question of “slavery” the Catholic Encyclopedia article from 1917 gives a balanced view and reminds us:

    “From the beginning the Christian moralist did not condemn slavery as in se, or essentially, against the natural law or natural justice. The fact that slavery, tempered with many humane restrictions, was permitted under the Mosaic law would have sufficed to prevent the institution form being condemned by Christian teachers as absolutely immoral.”

    The Church has not and does not absolutely condemn all forms of the labor arrangement sometimes known as slavery, sometimes as serfdom, sometimes as servitude, etc…as these are just certain socioeconomic arrangements of society, in themselves neutral.

    The “right” to switch jobs or locations is not a natural human right in any sense of the word and is entirely historically contingent. A society of fixed reciprocal social relationships (like medieval society with Lord and Serf) understood this better.

    Having a society with a fixed class-structure in which one class labors for its keep according to traditional arrangements…cannot be condemned absolutely. If it could, it would require condemning our CURRENT economic system (and ALL possible economic systems in the fallen world) as, though we like to be all high and mighty today in our celebration of the abolition of “slavery”…our current structures of class and labor-division and wage…are different in degree only, not nature (and you’d think a blog like Vox Nova would recognize this).

    What the Church has always tried to condemn are the ABUSES OF such systems, and to suggest better systems (though there is no perfect system in this fallen world).

    One such abuse that has always been condemned is viewing slaves as something less than human. So the moral law about not killing, not harming, treating with Charity, etc, has always applied to members of the economic class known as the slaves.

    However, in itself, there is no logically coherent way, without condemning all possible economic systems in the fallen world besides some sort of radically despecialized anarcho-primitivism, to absolutely condemn a system which the Catholic Encyclopedia describes by saying:

    “Slavery is not to be understood as conferring on one man the same power over another that men have over cattle. Wherefore they erred who in former times refused to include slaves among persons; and believed that however barbarously the master treated his slave he did not violate any right of the slave. For slavery does not abolish the natural equality of men: hence by slavery one man is understood to become subject to the dominion of another to the extent that the master has a perpetual right to all those services which one man may justly perform for another; and subject to the condition that the master shall take due care of his slave and treat him humanely”

    Of course, in practice, slaves in the “new slavery” (ie, the Transatlantic slave trade, based on race, and clearly different in practice from Ancient slavery and Medieval serfdom) were often enslaved unjustly (when captured at the initial point of enslavement) and reduced to objects of merchandise. Everyone would admit that.

    And on this practical level, the institutional church did not do enough to condemn such attitudes or abusive practices. But the theoretical angle has never really changed considered from a purely abstract philosophical point of view. The Church never taught anything wrong regarding slavery on the level of theory.

    As Catholic Encyclopedia explained well:

    “It must be observed that the defense of what may be termed ‘theoretical slavery’ was by no means intended to be a justification of slavery as it existed historically, with all its attendant, and almost inevitably attendant, abuses, disregarding the natural rights of the slave and entailing pernicious consequences on the character of the slave-holding class, as well as on society in general.”

    “Slavery” in itself can just be a certain way that society is structured economically, with a certain class the preforms the manual labor according to certain reciprocal arrangements (inasmuch as they must be provided with their human needs) with a class of managers. Are these managers/”masters” to some degree thus parasitic? Of course. But so are all of us living in the First World living off the back of the Third World today.

    In fact, there is no way besides radical communism (the ultimately classless and stateless [and impossible] society Marx imagined) for certain people in a society to not benefit more from the labor of some than those laborers benefit from those certain people. Our world system today is a difference in degree, not nature, in that regard. IF that. The level of exploitation is actually probably greater than in traditionally structured societies, it’s just more diffuse now and more hidden.

  • phosphorious

    In my estimation the entire Catholic faith hinges on the stability, that is, the truth, of her teachings on faith and morals.

    When we start talking about a Church whose moral principles can change, we are talking about something human, not divine.

    Our understanding of God’s will is human; we understand God as best we can (the same could be said for a scientific understanding of the universe: our theories about the universe are different than the universe itself). Christ made free use of metaphor, and tailored them to the audience at hand, but never suggested that any one of them was the whole truth. The son of God is a lamb and a shepherd and a bridegroom and. . .

    Augustine prayed “not to what I think You are, but what You know Yourself to be.”

    I see no reason that we can’t examine prior teaching, appreciate what’s good in it, and try to be a little better. The truth doesn’t change, but I hope our understanding of it does.

    We shouldn’t make an idol of tradition.

    • Yeah, I’m not making an idol of Tradition.

      And yes, our understanding of the truth changes. But that doesn’t mean the truth changes. It’s also not an excuse for being intellectually lazy or imprecise.

      • phosphorious

        I thin k you are. Real questions have been raised about the morality of Capital punishment, and you merely refer to “the tradition.”

        That’s intellectually lazy.

  • Liam

    If we can’t say without Ptolemaic epicycles the inheritable chattel enslavement is an evil, then a moral law so conceived is not worth a bucket of warm piss.

  • What do we mean by slavery?

    Slavery has existed in a number of places and forms.

    In the Greco Roman world slavery meant the master owned the slaves labor, he could assign work and recieved the pay. The slave had rights, spordically enfoced of course, he could own property even other slaves. Mistreatment was illeagle, again spordically enfoced.

    In the American South Chattel Slavery the master owned the person. The slave had no rigths. virtual no provision in law agaist mistreatmweant.

    Most modern forms of slavery, it still exists, are even more degrading. It is essentilly chattel slavery but since it is illegal there is even less protection and more brutality.
    see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUM2rCIUdeI&feature=player_embedded

    If you would modify your propositon to Chattel Slavery is an intrinsic evil, and classical slavery isomething that can be proximate to evil you would have more solid case.

  • Dulles defines slavery very broadly, as including various types of subjection and servitude (e.g. indentured servitude), so he has slavery in the broad sense as not intrinsically evil. But he also says, about slavery defined more narrowly:

    Cardinal Avery Dulles: “Radical forms of slavery that deprive human beings of all personal rights are never morally permissible, but more or less moderate forms of subjection and servitude will always accompany the human condition.” (‘Development or Reversal?’, First Things, October 2005.)

    So the radical form of slavery, which is the more common use of the term today, can be understood as intrinsically evil — if it is defined as the deprivation of all fundamental human rights.

    As for the death penalty, Dulles points out that both the Old and New Testaments clearly teach that the death penalty is not always immoral.

    Cardinal Dulles: “In the Old Testament the Mosaic Law specifies no less than thirty-six capital offenses calling for execution…. In his debates with the Pharisees, Jesus cites with approval the apparently harsh commandment, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die’ (Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10, referring to Exodus 2l:17; cf. Leviticus 20:9). When Pilate calls attention to his authority to crucify him, Jesus points out that Pilate’s power comes to him from above — that is to say, from God (John 19:11). Jesus commends the good thief on the cross next to him, who has admitted that he and his fellow thief are receiving the due reward of their deeds (Luke 23:41).” (‘Catholicism & Capital Punishment,’ First Things, April 2001)

    The Church has no authority or ability to teach anything contrary to the teachings of Tradition or Scripture.

  • Liam

    All this said, if people think that what would be considered grave confessional matter today regarding slavery was always treated as such before the last 200 years, they have another thing coming. (Meaning, for example, that someone who owns inherited chattel slaves under complete or nearly complete subjugation would of course today be viewed as being in a objective state of grave sin; not necessarily so 200 years ago.) The Church’s teaching may be said to have developed, in a very important and vital way, when viewed from this perspective. I think trying to prettify this development into a non-development would actually be scandalous in its own right.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    This is the first of several responses as I digest the many comments this post has generated. Let me begin by saying I am more than a little surprised by attempts to defend slavery in some form, by attempting to distinguish between modern and classical slavery, or to interject serfdom into the discussion. I think that slavery and serfdom need to be distinguished—I know less about the latter institution but suspect that it was more than “slavery lite.” With regards to classical slavery, it is common to romanticize it—this is what I was criticizing Dulles for above. I think that this is a naive view of slavery in the ancient world. Yes, there were some slaves who rose to positions of great authority in their households, and freed slaves moved in the upper reaches of Republican and Imperial society. But that glosses over the state of slaves in general. One can no more point to these examples to defend Roman slavery than one can point to the relatively benign treatment of house slaves in Virginia to defend slavery in the American South. I think a very credible discussion of slavery in Rome is this essay
    by Keith Bradley from the Snowden Lectures.

    I use the term slavery to connote chattel slavery, but I most definitely include in this the Roman institution as well as medieval slavery (as distinguished from serfdom). I simply cannot give any credence to an argument that this is one socio-economic arrangement among many in this fallen world, and so a priori ethically neutral.

    As to whether Church teaching on slavery has changed, please see again the passage from Veritatis Splendor I quoted above, which includes slavery in a list of things that are always seriously wrong in and of themselves. Is this, or is this not teaching that slavery is intrinsically evil?

  • bill bannon

    David,
    “Splendor of the Truth ” section 80 has several problems in its list of intrinsic evils.
    It fails to define its terms so that the reader is led as you were to see all slavery as intrinsically evil which is impossible because God gives chattel slavery to the Jews in Leviticus 25:44-47 and God does not give intrinsic evils to the Jews.
    Let’s take “deportation” which is also listed in an unqualified manner as an intrinsic evil. Last May two muslim students in Italy plotted to kill Pope Benedict and Italy deported them back to north Africa. Neither the Pope nor any Catholic writer protested the Pope’s being protected by an alleged intrinsically evil act. Ergo….no one within Catholicism accepted the unqualified condemnation of deportation of John Paul II when it came to protecting the Pope. As he got older, John Paul was not precise with terms.
    We see this again in 1999 when he calls the death penalty “cruel” in St. Louis despite his own catechism affirming the theoretical rare use of the death penalty. If it is cruel, then it should never be affirmed. It is not cruel and is given by God in Genesis 9:6 for both Gentiles and Jews in the case of murder.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      “God does not give intrinsic evil to the Jews.” Is divorce an intrinsic evil? Since marriage is defined as being indissoluble a fact which is evident both from revelation and from natural law, and never to be allowed, it would seem to be so. Or at least, my reading of the Catholic Encylopedia article suggests that this is the case. But God clearly gave divorce to the ancient Israelites despite this fact—Jesus had to make a point of explaining this to the Jews of his own time.

      So, we either have that divorce is intrinsically evil, but God gave it to the Israelites anyway (due to “the hardness of their hearts”), in which case we can at least ask if the same was true of chattel slavery, or both divorce and chattel slavery are not intrinsically evil, and we can ask under what circumstances, if any, they would be acceptable today.

      • bill bannon

        David,
        It is your second option in a way.
        The Jews did not have the sacrament of Matrimony so divorce was not an intrinsic evil in their case. That is why in Petrine privilege cases, a Catholic man or woman could marry a baptized person who was divorced from a Jewish person….the original baptized/non baptized marriage is dissolved in favor of the Faith. But between two vowing mature baptized persons, a divorce cannot take place ever. Annullments retroactively
        judge that a vow was never accepted by God because unbeknownst at the vows, one person for maturity reasons was not capable of a vow.
        Hence no vow ever occurred in those cases.
        Slavery is evil when it is unnecessary just like drunkeness which Scripture says excludes from the kingdom of God if it is a lifestyle yet it is mandated when extreme sadness makes it necessary here:

        Proverbs 31:6 Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress;
        Pro 31:7 let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their
        misery no more.

        Likewise if total nuclear war in the future annihilated all culture and the survivors were in effect brought back to tribal existence and there was no modern type employment except the ancient ones of hunting and farming and handcrafts, then slavery might again happen morally. Capitalism ended slavery because capitalism needs the great masses of men to buy its mass produced products…so slavery hurts capitalism because it reduces the number of paying customers.

      • Paul

        David Cruz-Uribe: “So, we either have that divorce is intrinsically evil, but God gave it to the Israelites anyway (due to “the hardness of their hearts”)…”

        Matt 19:8 “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”

        I.e. divorce is intrinsically wrong, and has always been so.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      The problem with this interpretation of Veritatis Splendor (which is very similar to the one Dulles makes), is that to me it boils down to “the Pope didn’t mean what he said.” In other words, we have a long and carefully reasoned encyclical on moral theology that, among other things, deals expressly with the question of intrinsic evil, and the Pope deliberately chooses to quote the documents of Vatican II to illustrate this concept. But you are arguing that he is being sloppy and imprecise. I am perfectly willing to take this as being a condemnation of chattel slavery by both Vatican II and JP II, but I find it hard to read it as anything but a categorical condemnation of chattel slavery as being evil by its very nature. Yes, this would seem to contradict, at least superficially, the sense of Scripture, and such inconsistencies make me very uncomfortable. But the Gospel message itself makes me very uncomfortable. If I am going to err, I will err in favor of love and the dignity of the human person.

      • bill bannon

        But we know also from the “deportation” contradiction in Benedict’s case and from John Paul calling the death penalty “cruel” while affirming it in the catechism…..that John Paul displayed a pattern of imprecision.
        Benedict is doing the same thing in his 80’s. He has twice repeated the “cruel” appelation for the death penalty while on the other hand he oversaw the catechism’s affirmation of it. And go to section 42 of Verbum Domini and you will hear Benedict state this: “In the Old Testament, the preaching of the prophets challenged…every kind….of violence…whether collective or individual.”
        Sounds good….except that Elijah slit the throats of 450 prophets of Baal, Eliseus killed 42 children with a curse due to their dishoring his role, and the prophet Samuel ” hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal” because Saul didn’t do it as God told him too.
        How do Popes get careless? They are surrounded by people who do not challenge them and who do not want to be transferred out of Rome back to a normal clerical life if they offend.

  • Jasper

    I am privatly against the death penalty but for it publically, I don’t want to force my religious views on others..

    I believe we should make the death penalty not needed by providing work and free housing to those who are susceptable to commiting murder.

    I believe the death penalty should be safe, legal and rare.

  • LM

    As a descendant of slave masters and the slaves that they were having non-consensual sex with, I find this discussion to be absurd.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Amen: especially since the same sorts of things went on in Rome and in Ancient Israel.

  • Ronald King

    Morals do change when our understanding of the Truth evolves more deeply into the mystery of God’s Love. In Genesis 9:6 it is quoted that God demands an accounting “If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed;…” Now, does God demand that we kill someone who kills or does He demand a different type of accounting? If we execute a murderer then we are also subject to an accounting of taking the life of someone who has been made in the image of God.
    Genesis 9:5 states “From your own lifeblood, too, I will demand an accounting: from every animal I will demand it…”
    What is being stated here? Could it be that God is telling us that we have the freedom to kill in response to killing but this is a choice rather than a command and we will experience consequences for choosing this action. It also seems that when God implicates the animals with consequences for killing He treats human and animal actions alike. Well we do have the limbic system of our brains in common with each other and it is built on very powerful survival instincts which are used to obtain territory and to defend it among other functions.
    There is nothing evil in these instincts until humanity begins to develop self-awareness, but these instincts do create natural consequences of continued cycles of fight and flight/violence. Self-awareness is what is supposed to separate us from the instinctive fight or flight limbic brain and this is where we theoretically separate ourselves from the animals in our relationships with others.
    However, it seems that we have used our intellect to develop beliefs to support our instinctive responses and continue to live in a violent mechanical responsiveness to life with pockets of awakening with our charitable moments.
    The more awake we are the light is shed for our understanding of Truth and morality changes.

  • “I use the term slavery to connote chattel slavery, but I most definitely include in this the Roman institution as well as medieval slavery (as distinguished from serfdom). I simply cannot give any credence to an argument that this is one socio-economic arrangement among many in this fallen world, and so a priori ethically neutral.”

    Again, I think it really depends on what you are viewing, and what those societies viewed, as essential to the institution called “slavery.”

    If included the idea of “owning” a person, reducing them to an object, or in any way reducing on principle (as opposed to just often in practice, as an abuse) what the moral law says is owed in justice and charity towards another human being…of course this is wrong.

    But this isn’t necessarily what slavery was in Old Testament Israel, for example, nor in medieval Christendom (even as opposed to “mere” serfdom).

    Nothing can be considered a “human right” that is not granted to children vis a vis their parents. If one’s only objection to certain forms of slavery (albeit largely “theoretical” forms) is based on “freedom” or on masters subjecting slaves to the same sorts of limitations to which parents may legitimate subject their children…one should also, then, start arguing against the power of parents over children (on a family farm, for example).

    As it stands, as Cardinal Dulles said, “more or less moderate forms of subjection and servitude will always accompany the human condition.”

  • Liam

    Bill

    I am aware you have been the pro-slavery apologist along the Leviticus 25 lines over the years, and people generally just ignore you.

    However, Leviticus 25 does not *necessarily* have to be read as broadly as you read it. Given what the Church now tells us, it seems much more probable that it must be read as narrowly as possible consistent with VS and other developed teachings on human dignity as well as confessional praxis (one cannot consider the teachings abstractly). So, for some mysterious reason, God may have permitted inheritable chattel slavery for a people redeemed directly by him from chattel slavery who at the time of Leviticus has no civil government to speak of but were being governed directly, as it were, by him. Those circumstances no longer obtain to anyone.

    But a moral law that simply accepts the equivalence of Leviticus 25 to chattel slavery today is facile and worthless. Worse, it is scandalous.

    • bill bannon

      Never was pro slavery…..see above new responses to David. And thanks for the dig about being ignored. We will be known as Christ’s followers by our internet digs.

      • Liam

        Apologies for my equivocal phrasing: I meant that descriptively, rather than presriptively, and I was trying *not* to ignore you. Not a dig as such.

        But, still, your rolling out of Leviticus 25 as a kind of proof test does beg the question, and I would challenge you in the future to avoid using it as such, and at least admit you don’t fully understand how it fits with what the Church teaches about slavery now, rather than using as a way to undermine what the Church teaches about slavery now. Your use of Leviticus 25 in the past has not been, well, very Catholic in effect if not intent, and you should own the burden of rectifying that.

        • bill bannon

          Church teaching on morals can be wrong as it was when Pope Leo X affirmed death by burning of heretics in 1520 AD in Exsurge Domini. Biblical texts can help us to see if Popes are going off track. Christ used the proof text method asvdid Aquinas. That Popes can err on morals when not speaking infallibly is Catholic dogmatics per Ludwig Ott/ last par. of section 8/ Intro to Fundamentals…and per Germain Grisez/ page 854 of vol.1 of “Way of the Lord Jesus”.
          Slavery is wrong now because it is unnecessary. It was right in a culture with no prisons which nomadic culture is.
          To use “intrinsic evil” about it is the papal tendency perhaps to close off discussion by the use of power. Once you declare something “intrinsically evil”, you no longer have to answer questions about it….but in this case, you contradict the word of God.
          If your son says to you, ” Dad can I smoke?”. You can end all his reasons by saying….” No son….it’s intrinsically evil”.
          You’ve signalled him that his noting that your family genetically never gets cancer despite smoking is meaningless….reason is over because “intrinsic evil” is beyond the realm of reason. That is how the Aristotelian canard that money is barren led Aquinas to fortify our error on usury til 1830 when quietly we finally agreed with the Calvinist position of 1545….that moderate interest charged to affluent people is not usury, the sin. Then our apologetics industry went to work with intricate explanations.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Slavery in Ancient Israel was a complex institution, with two sets of rules: one for enslaved Israelites, and another for enslaved foreigners. But at least for the latter (and probably in practice for the former) it was chattel slavery: slaves were bought and sold and were the property of the owner. That they could not be treated with complete impunity does not deny their status as property, any more than anti-cruelty laws keep pet dogs from being property. This seems clear from the basic texts in the Torah discussing slavery (a summary of these can be found here). The Dominican scholar Roland de Vaux said it succinctly:

    Strictly speaking, the slave is chattel, belonging to his master by right of conquest, purchase or inheritance; the master makes use of him as he wills and can sell him again. Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions

    I am genuinely curious (albeit horrified on some fundamental level) how someone might defend the slavery of the Old Testament, even on theoretical grounds. “God gave it to the Israelites, so it cannot be intrinsically evil” really begs the question: surely the reasons that it is not can be made clear via reason.

    • bill bannon

      David,
      Look at your Dominican’s phrase…conquest, purchase or inheritance. Imagine nomadic culture with no prisons for criminals or captured enemies. Both become slaves unless you want to execute petty criminals and we don’t. So a petty criminal who steals without weapons in a nomadic culture is going to be a slave as soon as someone catches him at stealing….there are no prisons. Two tribes war over a water hole for their herds. The survivors of the losing tribe become slaves….there are no prisons. Later the criminal become slave…and the tribal warrior become slave are
      sold. The next master then is a purchaser of slaves who were originally slaves due to the non existence of prisons. He leaves them to his son who now inherits them.
      The two men went through all three stages: conquest ….purchase….inheritance.
      But they began in respect to mercy since a Ghengis Ghan would have killed both the criminal and the opposition warrior if he currently had little use for slaves.
      Ergo…slavery in a nomadic period that had no prisons was actually something that was a relative good at that time period all things considered. Brutality might be necessary also if the criminal kept his criminal will even within slavery. But historically slavery was a good alternative to death since the alternative of prison did not exist amongst nomadic cultures.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        Maybe we will have to agree to disagree, but I am unpersuaded by the “lesser evil” argument for slavery. What historically was for nomadic cultures does not mean that that is what ought to be. Many of the situations you outline could have been handled differently and morally. That they were not does not justify what was actually done.

        Also, on a practical level, the difference between keeping a prisoner and keeping a slave on a daily basis is slight in any culture. But the ontological difference between a prisoner being punished and a slave who is owned is tremendous.

  • David Elton

    Since there has been no definitive teaching on the death penalty (a papal encyclical, for example), I feel free to express my judgement that the death penalty should be retained for certain terrible crimes. In some cases, it is the only just punishment. In my opinion, a society that prohibits the death penalty is a society that has given up on the concept of justice, and replaced it with a mindless, indiscriminate compassion.

    • bill bannon

      David,
      And read wiki’s list of high murder rate countries. Of the top 20 worst, nearly half are heavily Catholic populated countries in Latin America with no death penalties.
      That fact is not a final answer but it should have made both recent Popes reticent to speak on the topic at all if you add to it the total failure in security matters that the sex abuse period signified. But as long as Popes never face hard ball press interviews, they can drift into actual fantasy on such topics and expound on matters that we have failed in miserably. What governmental leader would think of consulting us on security questions after 40 years of permissive treatment of predators?

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        Bill, though I am not accusing you of this, you should be aware that your argument about murder rates is nearly identical to 19th century anti-Catholic arguments about why Catholics should not be allowed into the US.

    • Dan

      There are worse things than death.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      David, there has been a definitive papal teaching on the death penalty. In Evangelium Vitae, JP II made it very clear that the death penalty is to be reserved only for cases in which a society cannot defend itself, and only when other means are unavailable: “the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society.” (EV 56)

      • David Elton

        I don’t believe that these comments rise to the level of a definitive teaching. EV enumerated those acts which are intrinsically evil, and the death penalty was not among them. Any decision with regard to the death penalty is a prudential judgement reserved to the politcal authority.

        • reserved to the political authority

          What do you mean by this?

          • David Elton

            Some moral decisions are made by those who have legitimate political authority, and these are prudential decisions made by persons who have responsibility for the common good.

          • Some moral decisions are made by those who have legitimate political authority

            Yes – but is it your position that these moral decisions are beyond the authority of the Church to judge? Because they “are prudential decisions made by persons who have responsibility for the common good.”?

  • digbydolben

    If Divine Truth is mutable, it’s not really divine. If it’s not really divine, the Church is not really teaching what she says she is teaching.

    THIS really is the kind of “blasphemous idolatry” both the Muslims and the Protestants speak of; the Roman Catholic Church is NOT “divine.” Only God is “divine,” by definition.

    It is certainly the sort of thing that distresses people who have taken the approach of coming to the conclusion that the Catholic Church is Christ’s true Church on earth and that it is guided by the Holy Spirit.

    Although the moral law of God may be spoken of as being “immutable,” the mind and understanding of man is NOT. Christ’s promise of “indefectableness” to His Church through the Holy Spirit’s guidance is one of being GRADUALLY LED TO THE TRUTH through a “time-space continuum,” which is the only space in which man is allowed to live. That means that the “truth” will be only gradually revealed, through a sort of dialectic that is very well described in the works of John Henry Cardinal Newman. I really wish some supposed “theological conservatives” would read some of those works.

    And as for Cardinal Avery Dulles’s finding that slavery is not “intrinsically evil,” he wasn’t much of a classicist, was he?

    I don’t want to once again beat a dead horse, but some of you who feel cheered in your support for the death penalty by the late cardinal’s position regarding slavery really ought to go and read more about the position a Roman slave of whatever age found him or herself in vis-a-vis his or her master.

    To put it bluntly to you once again: a Roman slave was required, by Roman law and custom, to sexually service his or her master. The penalty for refusal or rebellion against this requirement was DEATH.

    So, to those many of you who really DO seem to believe that the only “intrinsically immoral” thing is “Homo-sex-you-allity,” as a writer above has suggested, what do you NOW think of Paul’s countenancing of Roman slavery. Doesn’t the Church’s evolving position regarding it suggest one of Newman’s “developments”?

  • digbydolben

    As someone presently living in the Third World, I must more or less agree with what “a Sinner” says about the continuance of a more “diffused” and socially acceptable form of slavery in the Third World.

    And “Hank” (above) is incorrect regarding the “rights” of Roman slaves. Slave masters were only ever punished for MURDERING their slaves without the consent of the State. That was it: Nero’s first signed death warrant was for the crucifixion of an entire household of slaves–men, women and children–wherein the master had been assassinated by ONLY ONE of their number. Roman and almost ALL forms of “ancient slavery” were of the the radical and absolute form (justified by the same Nichomachean Ethics in which Aristotle approved of exposure of infants)that Paul of Tarsus countenances.

    • Ronald King

      Digby, I want to thank you for the knowledge, sensitivity, wisdom and passion you bring to these discussions. I also want to tell you how I admire your courage in choosing your path in life and how grateful and humbled I am to know you in a this venue.
      May God continue to Bless You.

      • digbydolben

        Ronald, if you ever come to my part of the world, you have an open invitation to let me play host and tour guide. You are one of the few here whom I’d actually like to meet.

  • Dan

    We seem to be ignoring one factor here: The sliding scale of morality. Many of the actions we would now define as sins were permitted or at least tolerated in the Old Testament. Are we to believe that God’s endorsement of ancient Israelite conquest and mass slaughter is consistent with a loving God who cares about the Philistines just as much as the Israelites? Consider divorce: why was Moses permitted to allow divorce? Why is the Mosaic law legalistic rather than behavioural? We continually look to find consistency between the old and the new. Perhaps there is none to find – perhaps morality is somewhat relative to circumstance; the nomadic environment in which the ancient Israelites lived was vastly different than a structured society in which we live; survival took most of the daily cycles – morality was just emerging. Spirituality was mostly a foreign concept – religion was used to conquer fear and facilitate physical survival more than to perfect oneself. They were essentially “spiritual children” and had to operate within a set of laws they could understand, and which were consistent with the world in which they lived.

    Perhaps God provides a different set of rules for those whose “hardness of hearts” cannot embrace the truthes we now know.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    I have a question about the “defense of society” argument that is now the only remaining instance in which the death penalty is licit (at least in my reading of the Catechism and EV). When, properly, is an act of violence self-defense? Clearly, if someone is attacking you, it is. But when else? Presumably, if you have very good reason to believe an attack is imminent (say troops are massing on your border, or the individual is standing on your doorstep with a club screaming for you to come out) then you can also legitimately invoke self-defense. But how far can this be extended? Bush claimed the right of pre-emptive attack as self-defense, but the Pope and the majority of theologians who commented on this rejected this argument.

    And how does this apply to the death penalty? What degree of certitude is required to say that we “must” kill someone in order to defend society? That the person killed once? That the person killed, was punished and has killed again? That a professional will testify that there is a strong probability that this person will kill again? (Note that this is frequently used line of argument in Texas, though it is widely discredited as junk science.) That the person is a demonstrable psychopath who tries to kill whenever given an opportunity?

    I am interested in answers to both questions, both the generic and the specific.

    • David Elton

      “Defense of society” is only one factor in the argument. The requirements of justice is another. What is a just punishment for a crime like the Oklahoma City bombing? One hundred fifty people killed, including 15-20 little children playing in their day care. No doubt that the criminal intended to commit the act. The only just punishment in this case is the death penalty. As I said before, a society that prohibits the death penalty is a society that has given up on the concept of justice.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        Why is the death penalty the only just punishment? Asserting it does not make it so. There are many ways of viewing justice, and if the ultimate goal of justice is to restore right order to society and to bring the guilty to a knowledge of their crimes (opening the door to repentance and conversion), then I don’t see what role killing will play in this.

        Also, I suggest you look up the commentary of Bud Welch, a Catholic from Oklahoma City whose daughter was murdered in the Oklahoma City bombing. He is adamant that killing Timothy McVeigh was not justice.

        • David Elton

          I disagree with Mr. Welch. The execution of McVeigh was perfect justice. How do you repent of murdering 150 people? And what sort of “conversion” would this be? Let’s not let sentiment obscure reality and cloud our judgement.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        You have not answered my question: why is the execution of anyone justice, let alone “perfect justice”? (A very big claim in our fallen world.)

        I don’t know how you can repent of 150 murders, but the love of God transcends all human understanding, and I am not going to try to impose limits on it. This is not “sentiment”: I am very clear on the evil we are talking about, but we are told that on the cross Jesus has “overcome the world” which includes the manifold sins and evils in our hearts.

        • David Elton

          You have very nice religious feelings. Apparently you have peeked into heaven, and are able to enlighten us about God’s views on the matter. Most of us, however, are stuck here on earth, and we deal with the demands of justice as best we can. I am content to leave the issue with “those who have responsibility for the common good.” I hope they have the common sense not to prohibit the death penalty completely.

  • Nate Wildermuth

    David, in the Catechism there is a double standard for killing in defense. Agents of the state may intentionally kill in defense, whereas civilians may only unintentionally kill in defense(double-effect).

    Why the double standard for soldiers, police, and executioners? I have never heard a good answer to that question.

  • Ronald King

    The death penalty seems more like revenge. We are motivated by the emotions and what emotions motivate those who support the death penalty. It seems that true justice can only come through a relationship with God which then elevates the emotions to a spiritual perspective.
    Justice that comes from the basic human emotions recreates the violence of the past and is called justifiable anger. This is a rationalization to defend a sinful act and to satisfy one’s anger and anger is a defense against the more vulnerable feeling of being hurt.
    God’s love is above human justice and is not dependent on what the other has done. God only wants every soul to be saved. Do we create the environment of salvation through the fear of death?
    Those innocents who have been murdered through violence, in my opinion, would be have died without any meaning if we do not learn that violence begets violence.